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And So Our Story Begins...Again
I could call my first novel, “This Is Not What I Expected.”
It’s nothing like this newsletter. Or it is very much like this newsletter only in the form of literary fictional story-telling. “This Is Not What I Expected,” though mostly describes the process I’ve gone through to write it.
Four years ago, I was lying in my bed late on a Saturday morning, pretending to still be asleep, the sunlight spilling through the blinds, turning the light behind my closed lids red. A scene coalesced in my brain.
A cutting board in a kitchen, pieces of salad vegetables strewn about haphazardly, a large paring knife and a pool of viscous liquid dripping from board to counter to floor. We zoom in closer. The chunks of carrot are listing about in the dark pool like buoys, but one looks different than the others. It has what suspiciously looks like a thumbnail attached to it.
She was chopping vegetables, making a salad for dinner…and now she’s gone. The dark liquid trails across the floor toward the back screen door that, unlatched, bangs against the frame lightly in the breeze. We can see through the fading evening light, an expanse of lawn and dense woods on the other side of it.
Holy shit, I’ve had a vision! I threw off the sheets, sprung from the bed and stumbled downstairs to commit this gem to keyboard and screen before it blew away with all of my other mind mist.
That was 2018.
Since then, I’ve thought I was “almost done” at least seventeen times. At the time I began recording the carrot scene, I had probably half-dozen novels on my computer, each abandoned after a few paragraphs or pages. This one, I was determined to see though. That scene was too compelling not to. So when I quite literally, finally, typed “The End” more than a year later. (Then added an epilogue for good measure.) I thought I was done. I smiled, went for a walk and had a glass of wine to celebrate.
Such a satisfying two words. Such closure. I did not know the rewriting, editing, hemming, hawing and self-doubt would take so much effort and so many hours. Hours that stretched into years.
It is terrible. It is the kind of thing that makes you want to literally do anything else — scrub the tile grout with a toothbrush, weed your neighbor’s poison-ivy-filled yard, call up old exes and admit you were wrong — except that there is no way you’re going to let anyone else do it. And you know it needs to be done.
I finally hired a professional editor, and she READ MY OWN WORK OUT LOUD TO ME WHICH WAS THE MOST MORTIFYING THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME SINCE WALKING DOWN THE HALL IN SECOND GRADE WITH MY DRESS TUCKED INTO THE BACK OF MY TIGHTS. Something like this:
Editing a novel is like shitty tasting medicine. It’s awful, and you need it. A professional editor (the right one) is like your mother making you take it. She know it’s icky but she loves you (your work), and it’s for your own good. Michaela Dunn has turned my novel into something actually publishable, and she’s turned into something of a friend. I couldn’t have asked for a better developmental editor. It turns out that hearing my own writing aloud in someone else’s voice broke through a barrier for me, making critique much more comfortable, or at least less excruciating.
Most people do not take three years to edit one piece, I don’t think. I read about a guy who puts out five novels a year. On a regular basis!
Editing was an inefficient process for me. That’s a euphemistic way to say that I spent months, even years, thinking about editing it and not doing it. Thinking about sharing it with someone else and not doing it. Thinking about looking for publishers and not doing it. I spent a lot of time getting in my own way. A lot of time avoiding how uncomfortable and vulnerable it made me feel to pick apart my first serious piece of fiction, to expose its tender underbelly to the harsh elements.
This is definitely NOT what I expected.
I thought just getting the whole thing down in a first draft was the hard part. Now, that just seems hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, first draft writing is not easy. It’s like pushing a winnebago uphill by yourself in the dark. Editing? Imagine you get to the top and your old shop teacher is there. She declares that you now must disassemble the winnebago using only your bare hands and put it back together as a working airplane.
You sigh, wipe your hands on your jeans and start loosening lug nuts because you’ve realized this hill is really a cliff and the only way to get back off of it is to build the damned janky airplane and hope it’ll hold together long enough to glide you outta there.
I expected to write, I expected to rewrite and edit, I expected publishing to be a tricky and elusive landscape.
What I didn’t expect is how much I would be a pain in the ass to myself.
I doubted. A lot.
This story of mine is terrible, my writing is mediocre, there is no way I’m going to get published in this day and age of content coming out from under every rock and social media cranny. I’m a hack. People don’t read books. People aren’t gonna read my book. I don’t have connections. I don’t have focus. I don’t have time. This is taking too long. I don’t have a go-getter mentality…
That shit right there got in the way a LOT. The thing that kept me slogging through it, was what has always kept me going — a need to see things through. I started it, I need to know that I’m going to finish it, take it through to the end. If I focus on that, I can quiet the “this story is terrible” voices down to a whisper, so I can hear myself think and get some work done.
And now all that is paying off, and I have a publishing deal!
Just kidding. No. I do not. I have simply gotten to this place where I cannot edit the damned thing anymore. Not because it is perfect but because I am so damned sick of the thing. I have finally gotten closure…on the editorial process. Tomorrow, I will come back here to my desk and start going down the list of potential indie publishers my editor sent me out of the goodness of her heart, as that is in no way in her job description.
The saga is not over, I’ve just finally finished a very, very long chapter — the kind with no dialogue and a lot of rambling, unnecessary description (Think Dickens) so it seems extra long. Not just to me but to everyone around me who has been hearing about this novel for years. Jason says he is in no way tired of hearing about it. There is also no way he’s not being supremely sarcastic.
Now that I’ve got the airplane together (It’s suspiciously wobbly, and I don’t think I had all the right parts), let’s see if I can find a pilot for this bitch. A navigator? What’s the right metaphor for a publisher here? I don’t know, whatever. I get lost easily. Just please y’all, pray that I don’t have to fly this thing all by myself.